DeKALB — Angela Grippo, an assistant professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University, has won a major national award for her research into the link between depression and cardiovascular disease in animals.
The American Psychological Association will present Grippo with one of its prestigious 2012 APA Distinguished Scientific Awards at its convention in August. The association classifies the awards “among the highest honors for scientific achievement by psychologists.”
Grippo is one of six researchers who will receive the Award for Distinguished Early Career Scientific Contribution to Psychology. The award recognizes excellent psychologists in early stages of their research careers.
Grippo is the first NIU faculty member to receive the APA honor, said Greg Waas, chair of the NIU Department of Psychology.
“Dr. Grippo’s award for early career contributions identifies her as an emerging leader in the field who is establishing an international reputation for her work on the linkage between depression and cardiovascular disease,” Waas said.
The APA’s Committee on Scientific Awards selects award recipients on the basis of nominations submitted by a wide range of scientists and institutions.
Reviewers with expertise in particular research areas provide further advice to the committee.
The psychologist credits her research team, which over the past four years has included NIU undergraduates and graduate students in psychology, biology and sociology.
“All of the students work very hard,” Grippo said. “I’m proud that this award recognizes the important research that we’re doing to help people understand how psychology can influence health.”
Her research program investigates how negative social experiences and stress are linked to anxiety and depression, impacting brain activity and cardiovascular health.
Rodents known as prairie voles are used as animal models because they exhibit human-like social behaviors, often mating with the same partner for life, raising offspring together and forming strong family bonds.
“We use animal models to investigate how psychological states overlap with biological functioning,” Grippo said. “We strive to conduct our studies using methods that will allow us to translate the results to humans.”
The research has shed new light on such important topics as how mood influences changes in the autonomic nervous system and leads to cardiovascular disease, and how negative social experiences such as isolation affect the development of depression and anxiety.
“Our hope now,” Grippo said, “is to find ways to treat these conditions and improve the quality of life for people experiencing mood disorders, loneliness or cardiovascular disease.”